Thursday, 15 October 2015

Meta-Blog: Blogging in academia

This week I invited two of our fellow blogging academics from the university of Waikato to join Noeline and I to talk about blogging with interested colleagues over lunch.

Terry Locke blogs here

Alison Campbell blogs here and also here

Marcus Wilson sent his apologies, but he blogs here

And if you are reading this, you have found the blog I co-author with Noeline Wright.

Colleagues in attendance included Leigh Hynes, who has a series of blogs, including this one

My reasons for convening this session, as part of our regular elearning brown bag lunch offerings were to talk about why we blog, and for whom, how blogging links to our work as tertiary teachers, researchers and academics, and to share some of the highs and lows of blogging. It is interesting to look at the different approaches to blogging between individuals, and across faculties and disciplines. For those considering starting a blog, this was a chance to consider why they might do so and to plan the first steps. For those who are not considering starting a blog, this is a chance to find out why on earth anyone else would! Participants were invited to come along to share the blogs they read.

What follows are a few tidbits from our discussion.

Why do we do it!?

In terms of purpose, it seems we blog:

- to write and think. Writing helps with thinking and short blog posts are an opportunity to succinctly express an emergent idea. Getting thoughts into print is an expectation and for many of us, a way of life. Terry blogs to collate his life’s work as pre-retirement project. He is articulating his philosophy, gathering up his poetry and linking other blogs that influence his thinking. I blog to catalogue my thinking across teaching and research, to cultivate a writing routine and fluency. In our blog, we could do a better job of linking to other blogs.

- to help students. Alison’s blog started as a way to help students of scholarship Biology. I find that I can articulate threshold concepts via blog posts and then share them every time this is relevant to student learning needs. I can address learning needs without repeating myself endlessly. The best example is learning through ICT.

- to elicit feedback and interaction, generating partnerships. Blogging is another way to network with like-minded people. The biggest frustration for Noeline and I about our blog is that we would like to get more response – feedback and interaction. Contributors talked a bit about how to ‘drive traffic to our blogs’ and it is apparent that the scientists among us have blogs syndicated to the science media site which assists with readership. We all rely on twitter to publicise our blog posts, and Alison uses Facebook too. I still find that most comments about the blog come from students, commenting within Moodle, or from colleagues chatting in the corridor/staffroom. While this is welcome, a few more responses on the blog itself – via the comments function – would be great. Anything other than the spammers really!

How do we do it?!

Some of our colleagues have several blogs on the go, for different purposes, and maintain a range of sites. Most of us carry unfinished blog posts in our head. Alison writes two blogs and has four posts in mind right now. For me, I look for ideas to blog and try to line up a few ahead of time. In much the same way as I organise the eBBL – When I meet someone, read something, attend a workshop or seminar, I ask myself, is there a blog post here?

I work to a deadline. Each fortnight I need to produce a post and I usually do. The actually writing of the blog post takes an hour or two. I always share draft for feedback from blogging partner but do not feel constrained to act upon the feedback received. I reserve the right to leave the post half baked, as is the nature of the medium.

In terms of the nitty-gritty, I find it helps if I a) take my laptop to shape up a post on the spot while in the session;

And b) sit down and write immediately after an event.

It seems the biggest challenge with blogging is TIME. We overcome this by scheduling, and linking blogging to other work opportunities and obligations.

Key tips:

  • Choose the register, pitch, language and length wisely. Who are your audience?
  • Blog with a writing partner – for peer review, motivation, and to share the load
  • Link with other work related tasks – your study focus, teaching, students, research, life’s works
  • Marry with Twitter, Facebook and other blogs to drive traffic
  •  Consider blogging as an assessment task for students. Examples include for science communication, literacy, or in keeping with other learning intentions.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Twisted pair?

This post is inspired by Steve Wheeler's #twistedpair challenge.

Essentially, it's about finding a link/synergy between two seemingly unrelated things. His post about teaching critical thinking led me to this post.

Earlier, I have written about pedagogy and food. Now I want to connect Heston Blumenthal, the chef, and the research process. His In Search of Perfection (see this example of the series) programmes are a great way to learn about action research. For example:

  1. he starts with a question - how do you make the best UK steak and salad meal? 
  2. he then asks a number of subsidiary questions to get under its skin.
  3. he does some data collection: he asks what people like in a vox pop and then follows up suggestions
  4. he asks experts in the field for their views, practices and protocols.
  5. he experiments with some of these - in the case of the steak, variations in the ageing process -what is the difference in flavour when cooked? 
  6. He then is able to make some decisions about tenderness, flavour, texture, fat and smell and tests them out by experimenting with samples of his own. 
  7. This leads to new knowledge and perhaps new practices.
This whole process is the way deliberate Teaching as Inquiry, a version of action research, can help teachers learn more about themselves, their practices, their wondering, and their learners. As Heston strives to know more by undertaking research into his practices, so teachers can learn from the principles of his method. He learns from things that go wrong (won't do that again) as well as things that are partially helpful or hugely successful. All of the data is potentially useful to add to knowledge. ERO (2012) argue that inquiry is about challenging thinking - it's about examining taken-for-granted practices through an evidence-based process. Heston Blumenthal's cooking investigation process shows how to do it.